Drawing syntax trees


The easiest way to draw syntactic trees on the computer is with the web app Sapling.

Click to see how to use Sapling

1. Go to https://groverburger.github.io/sapling/
2. Click on "root" to select the root node.
3. Delete the text "root" and replace it with the top of your tree
4. Right click on the node, then select "Add Subnode" → "Double". This will create two nodes below your topmost node.
5. Click on a node to select it. Type in the box to add text. Repeat for all nodes.
6. To add child nodes, click on the parent node, then "Add Subnode" and select "Single" or "Double" as required.
7. Click on the new node(s) to enter a name.
8. To edit other nodes, click on the node to select it. You can add text at this stage.
9. With the node selected, click "Add Subnode" and select "Single" or "Double" as required.
10. You can continue adding child nodes in this manner.
11. Click on the camera icon to save your tree as an image.
12. To create a new tree, click the icon that looks like a sheet of paper.

Note that this will remove the tree you've just made, so be sure to save it as an image first!

Hide Sapling instructions


To draw trees while offline, if you plan to do a lot of tree-building, or you have more complex trees, TreeForm is a great option. Note that you will need to have Java installed.

Mac users can install TreeForm by double clicking tree-form-install.pkg in the downloaded file; Windows users should unzip TreeFormWindows.zip then double click TreeForm.bat (if that doesn't work you can try double clicking TreeForm.jar).


You can also create trees in PowerPoint, and import them into Word. This is a little finnicky, but if you're very familiar with PowerPoint it could be an easy option for you.

Click to see how to use PowerPoint to draw trees

1. Create a new PowerPoint document and create a new slide. Delete all of the pre-existing textboxes on the slide.
2. For each node, insert a new textbox (Insert → Text Box)
3. Align the textboxes by dragging. PowerPoint provides handy guides (the dashed lines) to help line things up.
4. To draw lines between the nodes, insert a line (Insert → Shapes → Line).

Notice that when you go to draw the line, a small dot will appear on each side of each text box. If you start your line at the dot in one text box, and end it at another text box, it will link the two boxes.

5. Repeat this process for each line in the tree
6. Now you'll copy the tree into Word. Select the entire area around your tree, then copy the selected area by going to Edit → Copy.
7. Open your Word document. Insert the copied image by using Edit → Paste Special (NOT Edit → Paste). Select "PDF" in the popup box.
8. Success!

Hide PowerPoint instructions

Bracket notation

Linguists sometimes use bracket notation to represent trees in a compact form. Consider the following example:

		[S [NP Bob ] [VP ate ] ]

There are a number of online services that will let you input a tree in bracket notation and will pop out an image for you. Perhaps the most popular is Miles Shang's Syntax Tree Generator, shown here:

Some bracket notation converters include: